The Evolution of the Sleeping Bag

Do you ever think about where your outdoor gear comes from? I mean, truly think about it?!

I spent this past weekend holed up in a tent on Kebler Pass outside of Crested Butte, Colorado. We traversed the state for one simple reason: we wanted to see the fall colors of one of the largest aspen groves in the country. Fortunately, we nailed it: the quaking leaves were fiery yellow and hillsides were absolutely covered in autumnal glory. It was breathtaking.

Kebler Pass Photo by Will Rochfort

Unfortunately, the sunny days led into chilly evenings, and overnight temps dropped well into the mid-20s. We awoke one morning to frost on our tent and a car thermometer reading 28°F.

With the abrupt drop in temperature, I found myself nestling into my sleeping bag, reticent to leave its cozy warmth. While in there, I thought about how luxurious bags have become. My fiancé and I were sharing a two person sleeping bag that could accommodate such cold weather. With independent hoods and collars for both users and half zips to allow individual access from both sides, our sleeping arrangements epitomized the evolution of outdoor gear in the 21st century. What happened to using a thick, cozy blanket?!

Evolution of the sleeping bag

As it turns out, the modern-day outdoorsman has the French to thank for the creation of sleeping bags as we loosely know them. In the 1850s, French customs officials patrolled the Pyrenees between Spain and France. Naturally, they needed to keep warm overnight so they created a knapsack bag from sheepskin. They lined the interior with wool and then attached some buckles so they could roll it up during the day. It wasn't pretty and I don't imagine nightly bathroom breaks were easy, but the bag got the job done!

The evolution continued into the 1870s when a Welsh inventor named Pryce Pryce-Jones created the first commercially successful sleeping bag. As the father of the mail order business, P.J. was bound to have an entrepreneurial spirit and proved that with the Euklisia Rug.

The Euklisia Rug was a wool blanket with a pocket near the top for a sewn in, inflatable rubber pillow. Users just climbed in, folded the blanket over their bodies, and fastened the sides together. It seems so simple but this design style eliminated the hassle of men climbing into sack-like sleeping bags. In fact, it was so popular that PJ immediately sold 60,000 bags to the Russian army to be used during the Siege of Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War.

Unfortunately for PJ, the city fell before the Russian Army fulfilled their entire order, so he was stuck with 17,000 unused Euklisia Rugs. Never one to sit idle, he added the Rug to his catalog and marketed it as inexpensive bedding for charities. The Rug gained traction, and it was soon being used by outdoor adventurers in the Australian Outback and the British Army.

Kebler Pass Photos Photo by Will Rochfort

These days, the technological advancements in sleeping bags are well beyond the realm of sheepskin and rubber pillows. We have hydrophobic down and synthetic blends; women's specific bags with wider hips and smaller toe boxes. Heck, we even have pockets within the toe boxes to help keep cold digits warm!

There are days when I will feel tough after braving a sub-zero night in the snow, all while burrowed inside my 700 Fill Power sleeping bag with DownTek technology and wiggle room at the hips. And then I'll remember how much tougher the French officials were in the 1850s with their sheepskin sacks as they traversed the Pyrenees.

Guess I'm not as cool as I thought!


**Heather is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Learn more on her blog: Just A Colorado Gal.
posted by
Heather Balogh
Blogger at Just a Colorado Gal
Heather is a Colorado gal who believes adventure is part of her soul. She seeks adrenaline whenever possible, and can be found peak bagging high altitude summits, backpacking into off-the-grid locales with her pup, skiing powder stashes so deep the snow stings her face, or exploring new cultures in developing countries. (Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.) Will Rochfort is a Colorado-based writer and photographer who just happens to be married to A Colorado Gal, Heather Balogh. He is a contributing editor for Backpacker Magazine. See more of his work on Instagram.
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